Gay Pride Parade Diverted From Israeli City's Main Road Over 'Threats, Hurt Religious Feelings'

Police initially agreed to allow the parade to take place on Be'er Sheva's main road, but then rescinded permission after learning of unspecified threats; official denies capitulating to pressure from religious figure.

Hundreds take part in Ashdod's gay pride parade on Friday, June 17, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

Be’er Sheva police say they decided to divert the local gay pride parade from the southern Israeli city's main thoroughfare after learning of serious threats against the event scheduled for Thursday.

The threats came after police agreed to let the marchers go down the city’s central artery – but that permission has since been rescinded.

Be’er Sheva’s Pride House and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice Tuesday against Southern District Police Commander David Bitan, after the parade was banned from Rager Boulevard. An alternative route has been proposed. The court will discuss the petition on Wednesday.

Responding to the petition, the police said it decided to divert the parade from the main road due to concerns about the participants' safety, but also because the event could "deeply hurt religious sentiments" seeing as there are numerous religious institutions in the area. Other considerations included disruptions to traffic and the restriction of access to the local hospital. 

The evening after the Be'er Sheva gay pride parade, 2013.
Shahar Kindler

The commander of the local police station, Cmdr. Effi Shiman, refused to give details about the threats other than to say they “spoke of serious harm to human life.” He said the material would be provided to the court in a classified report.

“There is a close and real connection between marching down Rager and the [intelligence] tips that started to pile up on our desks,” Shiman said.

When asked by Haaretz if there was a connection between reports that the city’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Dery, objected to the parade marching down Rager Boulevard and the timing of the threats, Shiman categorically rejected such a link, saying, “All the work was done honestly and professionally to preserve the balance and the public interest.” Shiman refused to say how many times he had met with Dery on this issue.

The petition asks the High Court for an urgent hearing since the event is scheduled for Thursday. Although the petitioners had submitted their request to conduct the march on Rager Boulevard in May, it was only Sunday evening when police informed Pride House that after a security assessment by the police district, the route would not be approved.

The petition describes a meeting in April between attorney Smadar Bonen, representing Pride House, and Tzvika Cohen, an aide to Be’er Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich. According to the petition, Cohen told Bonen, “In Be’er Sheva we don’t march,” and suggested holding an event in a closed venue. “This isn’t Tel Aviv,” Cohen said, according to the petition.